During summer 2013, I worked with Dr. Scott A. Heldt at the UTHSC Neuroscience Institute as a NIH Medical Student Research Fellow on a project entitled the “Effects of Zolpidem on a1-GABAAR Sequestration and the Role of PKC and PKA,” which was funded by an NIH R21 grant and a NARSAD grant from the Brain and Behavioral Research Foundation.
Zolpidem (Ambien, Sanofi-Aventis) is a massively prescribed sedative-hypnotic drug given to treat patients for alleviation of insomnia due to sleep onset and sleep maintenance. Despite its approval and continued use in a safe manner, literature research, and reports of some patient cases, demonstrate that it may not be as safe for clinical use as previously thought.
In vitro studies expounding upon zolpidem treatment compared with a classical benzodiazepine (diazepam) were conducted in order to examine its effects on the receptor dynamics of the GABAA receptor because it is widely known that this receptor system is responsible for the mediation of zolpidem’s effects on the CNS. In many ways this project was a continuation of my exploration of GABA—the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter of the mammalian nervous system. Prior to taking on this research project I published two peer-reviewed articles in the Journal of Undergraduate Chemistry Research on synthetic approaches to 5-Alkylidene Meldrum’s acids that could be transformed into GABA analogs such as the drug Neurontin (gabapentin) and Lyrica (pregabalin).
I enjoyed the experience very much because this was my first time really working in a neuroscience lab and with animals. Setting up a mammalian cell culture was something I had not done before this project. I have worked with microorganisms and PCR as a biochemist, but I had never done in vitro work with animal cells. I had also never been able to work with fluorescent antibodies. It was very good neuropharmacology work for a beginning neuroscience investigator.
I think doing research over the summer helped me realize my place in medicine as a scientist and renewed my interests in the profession, which admittedly I had begun to question because of the blinding effect of studying all of the time during the regular term. I highly recommend trying research if you’ve never done it before seriously, and if you have done research then find a new field to explore. Simply by allowing myself to explore neuroscience, I fell in love with it. It has so much to offer an eager mind.